Roman Legion vs Vikings: who would win?

Our last article about who would win in a battle between a Roman Legion and a Greek Phalanx has been such a success that we’ve decided to continue the series. This piece is about who would hypothetically win in a fight between a Roman legion and a Viking formation.


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Strategy

Your typical Viking shield.

Your typical Viking shield. Source: Wikimedia

In a way, both the Romans and the Vikings were pillagers and plunderers. However, the way they went about it were quite distinct. For instance, the Vikings placed a lot of reliance on spiritual guidance of their gods, whereas the Romans spent extensive time developing military strategies that have proven to be quite successful.

Although both parties would use a technique known today as “The Shield Wall”, which served as an excellent way to protect a formation from being penetrated by the enemy, the Roman legions preferred to use it in smaller units to maneuver better. This would’ve given them an advantage over the Vikings on land. The fact that the Vikings preferred to charge into battle fearlessly with little planning whereas the Roman legions were professionals also speaks in favour of the latter.

However, naval history paints quite a different picture. Some historians believe that Vikings were the first “pirates”. Indeed, their sailing skills were well-developed and their longships could travel very long distances in shallow, as well as deep, waters. The ships were also very speedy for its time and could maneuver a lot better than the Roman ships. The Romans didn’t really place a lot of stock in the navy – they did have a fleet of sorts but they mostly relied on the ram in order to sink or immobilize an enemy ship.

Weapons

Modern representation of a Centurion - leader of a Roman legion

Modern representation of a Centurion – leader of a Roman legion. Source: Wikimedia

The Vikings’ weapons of choice were the spear, sword and battle-axe. The spear was the most common one, and the swords were only carried by the nobility. All the weapons, particularly swords, were finely decorated and could have been considered works of art. In case of the Romans, however, swords, or gladiuses, were very common, and were used together with javelins and spears (hastas). When it came to the armour, neither party would wear horned helmets, no matter how many times pop culture might try and convince us otherwise. In fact, helmets were only worn by the Viking leaders. Each Roman soldier, on the other hand, had a helmet and armour that was structured really well, with leather straps holding together several iron strips. Viking shields were kite-shaped and allowed for better protection of the legs, whereas the Roman shield helped to protect their entire body and were light enough to maneuver really well.

Who would win? Case in point

Modern replica of a Viking vessel.

Modern replica of a Viking vessel. Source: Wikimedia

Well, first things first – unlike our previous article in this series, we don’t actually have any evidence to suggest that either part would win a confrontation between them. There is a common misconception that the Vikings have invaded Rome and brought the end of the Roman Empire. However, it is erroneous to call the “goths” and the barbarians “Vikings”. Vikings were much further north than the invaders of the Roman Empire.

However, given the picture that I’ve painted in this article, it’s quite safe to say that if a Roman legion were to meet a Viking formation on land, the Romans’ skills and experience would win over the brute force of the Vikings. On the other hand, if the two were to meet at sea, it can be said with utmost certainty that the victory would belong to the Vikings.

What do you think?

Vikings on a longship.

Vikings on a longship. Source: Wikimedia

Who do you think would win in a hypothetical fight between the Romans and the Vikings? Do you agree with our conclusions? Do let us know!

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